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What’s in the Medical Reserve? Trump Won’t Say, Watchdog Reports

June 25, 2020, 5:12 PM

Congress isn’t the only one waiting for details about a national medical supply stockpile during the pandemic. A federal watchdog reported Thursday the Trump administration won’t say what’s in the reserve or what supplies have been shared with states.

The Governmental Accountability Office report comes a day after a Senate panel said it is also waiting for that data. The Strategic National Stockpile contains reserves of medical supplies to be distributed during public health emergencies like the pandemic.

States struggling to provide sufficient protective equipment for health-care workers have criticized the Trump administration for the way it has managed the stockpile. The Government Accountability Office said it will still seek information about the stockpile’s contents and what it has sent to states.

“I assumed that staff would be able to quickly obtain the list of items that should be held together with the required and actual inventory levels of each item,” Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said during a hearing Wednesday. “Once again, I learned that it is dangerous to assume. We quickly found out that those lists do not exist or are certainly not made available to Congress or the public.”

President Donald Trump has repeatedly claimed the stockpile was empty in 2017, which former Obama administration officials have denied.

The stockpile had about 12,700 ventilators in early March, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci told CNN March 15. It also had about 12 million N95 respirators, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told lawmakers February 26.

Lawmakers, former government officials, and the recently retired director of the stockpile said that it is underfunded and wasn’t prepared to distribute supplies at the scale needed to combat Covid-19.

The GAO said Congress almost always provided the amount requested by the administration, if not more, from 2009 to 2020. The Trump administration didn’t make a separate appropriations request for the stockpile for fiscal 2020.

The Department of Health and Human Services plans to restructure and resupply the stockpile after being criticized for inadequate supplies.

Half of Covid Money Spent

The HHS as of May 31 has spent or committed to spend about 67% of the total $250 billion in Covid-19 funding that Congress provided, the report said. The agency has received about 10% of total appropriations from Covid-19 relief laws.

The department’s $8.5 billion in federal contracting obligations accounts for about half of all federal contracting as of May 31. Almost 30% of that went to purchasing 210,000 ventilators.

The largest contract under the Defense Production Act was awarded to Philips for ventilators. Philips delivered 2,500 ventilators to the Strategic National Stockpile by June 12, according to the GAO. An additional 41,500 ventilators are expected by the end of 2020.

The GAO said it will evaluate use of the Defense Production Act in a separate report.

The HHS has spent or obligated about $3.6 billion of the $5.5 allocated for the development of therapeutics and vaccines to treat or prevent Covid-19 as of May 31, according to the GAO.

As part of the first coronavirus spending bill, Congress increased the federal reimbursement rate to states for Medicaid spending. A higher match rate is a fast way to get more money to states and gives them incentive to expand Medicaid eligibility to more low-income individuals.

States have received an additional $7 billion as a result of that reimbursement increase, the GAO said.

Testing Data Mixed Into June

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continued to report inaccurate coronavirus testing data that conflated tests for the presence of the virus and tests for antibodies in recovered patients as of June 9, according to the GAO. Mixing those numbers gives an inaccurate picture of testing capacity.

The CDC had said it would separate that data after the mixed data were made public in mid-May.

The CDC didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

—With assistance from Alex Ruoff

To contact the reporter on this story: Shira Stein in Washington at sstein@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Fawn Johnson at fjohnson@bloomberglaw.com; Andrew Childers at achilders@bloomberglaw.com

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